Hendriks nearly 'game-ready' as camp opens

July 5th, 2020

OAKLAND -- Despite not knowing when baseball might return after it came to a halt in March, A’s closer never stopped throwing.

From bullpen sessions at a facility in Arizona immediately after the Spring Training stoppage to gathering as many high school and Minor League players as he could find for live batting practice sessions over the past two weeks in anticipation of Saturday’s first official team workout at the Coliseum, Hendriks arrived to Summer Camp ready for a ninth-inning call from the bullpen.

“If you gave me a game tomorrow, I would be ready,” Hendriks said Saturday after the A’s first workout of Summer Camp. “I’ve been throwing to hitters already and throwing bullpens. It doesn’t take me long to get game-ready.”

Hendriks has plenty of reason to want to get back on the mound. He’s coming off a career 2019 in which he earned his first All-Star selection while saving 25 games and setting a franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever, with 124. But even with the excitement of the return of baseball, Hendriks realizes that there’s still a process that must be followed before getting himself completely in tune for the 60-game regular season.

The A’s are stressing the importance of gradual development through camp for pitchers in order to avoid injury, something Hendriks learned about shortly after the shutdown of Spring Training, as he strained his oblique during a bullpen session in Arizona.

“I was trying to throw too hard,” Hendriks said. “There was a [miles per hour] leaderboard up on the side of the place I was throwing at. I was trying to beat Matthew Liberatore of the Cardinals and I wasn’t quite able to get there, but at least I was in the top five.”

Now fully healed, Hendriks intends to follow the regimen that A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson and trainer Nick Paparesta have mapped out for all pitchers for the next three weeks.

“I threw to hitters last Friday. I’ve been getting some guys here in the Bay Area, not only high school kids but also some guys in the Minor Leagues and a couple of big leaguers as well,” Hendriks said. “I’ve had some decent results. My biggest thing now is trying to gain a representation of the strike zone. Getting that back will be the main thing.”

The other significant adjustment for Hendriks and other A’s pitchers might be developing chemistry with rookie catcher Sean Murphy, who is set to take over as the starter after a brief stint with Oakland last year as a September callup. Murphy’s backup -- likely either Austin Allen or Jonah Heim -- won’t bring much experience catching A’s pitchers either as both are also rookies. But given his time throwing to them during Spring Training, Hendriks gets the sense that it won’t take long to get in sync with his batterymates.

“The biggest thing is they’re willing to listen,” Hendriks said of the group of young catchers. “That’s such a big attribute, especially for the young kids coming up now. Being able to listen and not try to force their game plan on guys.

“I remember throwing a bullpen to Sean Murphy and as soon as I threw he was asking me how he likes me to set up. That’s a big thing having that guy asking questions because there are certain places I want guys sitting in on certain pitches. Him being able to recognize that and being able to do it is going to be a big difference.”

Montas brings the heat

was among the group of A’s pitchers who threw bullpen sessions on Saturday. After a video posted by Montas to social media last month showed him touching triple digits on the radar gun, Murphy was able to confirm that Montas' fastball already appears to be in good form.

“My hand is pretty sore right now and I’m guessing it’s because of Frankie,” said Murphy, who also caught Sean Manaea on Saturday. “His stuff looked good.”